Travel lessons

It could have been so easy: two weeks of hibernation over Christmas and New Year’s, cozying up on the couch and reading a book while drinking hot cocoa….

“Why am I doing this to myself?”, I asked myself, as I do every time I lose myself in hours of travel preparations, knowing full well that following up on the trip ahead will take the same amount of time and effort afterwards. But I had set my mind on getting to know Prague. Before that, I wanted to spend some quiet days in the Saxon nature and make my dog happy with long walks. I had imagined a snow-covered landscape and a romantic snow-covered Prague when I booked the accommodations. But the closer the departure date got, the warmer it got, so I finally dropped any expectations and instead philosophized about why traveling seems important to me in the first place. And that’s what this article is about now.

Bye bye routine

Like a train that rolls along on the same tracks, we perform our daily tasks and travel through the stations of our daily routine, sometimes with more, sometimes with less energy. Breaking out of this corset of everyday routine, even for a small window of a few days, already gives us a sense of freedom.

And with freedom comes inspiration. The senses are open and awake and that gives me the chance to absorb new things like a child experiencing something for the first time. Pressure and time pressure no longer play a role and my respective goal is the place to which I am currently drawn. The best conditions, then, for in-depth learning, namely that learning which changes us, so to speak, in the interaction of inside and outside. It is a process of growth, similar to that which life lessons help us to achieve. A miniature life journey, so to speak.

At least, that’s what I claim for the way I prefer to travel – on a route with partial destinations. Hanging out somewhere at a nice resort all-inclusive is less to my liking.

Some of the lessons that such a trip can bring would be these, for example:

Overcome fears

When you start a journey, you never know exactly what to expect. Despite the best preparation, the unexpected can happen. Despite careful packing, you might not have the one item you needed right now. Despite careful attention to safety aspects, it remains an adventure.

A winter trip in particular has its special requirements. Weather conditions, road conditions, the reduced number of daylight hours must be planned for. Especially traveling alone requires special management. After all, you are on your own and have to rely on your own knowledge and skills. And my dog relies on me, so it’s my responsibility to think for him and take good care of him.

Embarking on such a journey means leaving one’s comfort zone and facing the unknown. This unknown, foreign thing that lies ahead of me worries me, especially since I don’t even understand the language of the country I want to travel to. Even if I can rely on my English, there is no guarantee that the person I am talking to will be able to communicate with me. In Prague, it actually happened to me more often that especially older people, whom I wanted to ask something, immediately rebuffed: “No English!”.

My strategy is, on the one hand, to familiarize myself with the unfamiliar as quickly as possible. Where can I find what? How do I get where? What is the meaning of…? I memorize the part of the city map I need, orient myself by the cardinal directions, remember the vicinity of the streetcar stop, and so on. I also estimate how long I need for a route so that I don’t have to wander around somewhere in the dark because I haven’t planned for the sun to set between four and five o’clock already. My sense of security grows with knowledge of the place.

On the other hand, I rely on my basic trust that there are people with hearts all over the world who would help me in my time of need. The human capacity for empathy transcends language barriers. This is one of the most important and beautiful realizations I have in my travel backpack.

Overcome challenges

While my biggest challenge this time was of a technical nature (but more of that later), my bodyguard Mowgli was confronted with a whole new experience: riding the streetcar. Sure, he’s ridden the streetcar before, but that was a long time ago.

Now we’re at the stop and I’m muzzling him because I’ve heard it’s mandatory. At that, I apologize and promise him it’s just for the ride. We board a packed streetcar, where I luckily find a seat. Mowgli, however, can’t find a proper grip and slides back and forth. I make an effort to fix him with my legs and thus give him a feeling of security. No sound of complaint comes. After we get off, I hope he’ll be just as brave about the next ride. To my great surprise, he can’t wait to get back in the car next time. Once he even puts his snout trustingly on the shoes of a stranger, whereupon the whole traveling environment falls into hearty laughter.

Sir Globetrotter is a dog with travel experience who knows how to behave in a restaurant, who waits patiently in front of the toilet until his boss comes back, who gets on the sightseeing boat as a matter of course and doesn’t even shy away from the reflective, smooth floor of the elevator. Apart from small outliers – such as the overly enthusiastic barking when I fetch the leash for the walk – he is the perfect travel companion on four paws.

It does not matter that our city trip has no museum visits in the program. Instead, we walk more and visit everything that interests me and where a dog has access. (The Golden Lane was not one of them 🙁 ) Prague is vast and there is much to see….

So quite a few kilometers on foot and paw come together. A sightseeing tour is also very exhausting for him. On the way home, he only creeps slowly and you can see that he would like to lie down, but for the sake of his boss, he always gives himself a new push, even though his paws have been smoking for a long time. So many impressions… He’ll deal with those later, lying on his dog bed, dreaming.

I buy a huge vegan pizza and hold the box with the fragrant contents under his nostrils. What is the carrot for the donkey, is fresh pizza for Mowgli. All of a sudden, he’s running twice as fast again as we head toward the hotel to enjoy our meal. In the restaurant, he quickly realizes that he is not allowed to beg and goes diving under the table. But now he is allowed to, because he was brave and hardworking. I keep giving him little pieces of the crispy edge. Not a species-appropriate diet, I know. But he hasn’t gotten sick yet from discarded food lying around on the street either. How many times have I prevented the worst with a sharp “Fie!”! Now he gets a reward, so to speak, under controlled conditions. Tomorrow I will spell out the word “dog food” for him again….

For the challenge I faced myself, problem-solving thinking was required. Imagine you reach your destination and want to inform your loved ones at home that you have arrived safely. You pick up the cell phone that was fully charged just two hours ago and realize: dead! Mouse dead. It cannot even be started at the charging plug. The worst-case scenario! I can’t call anyone because all the contact information is on the cell phone. There are no more public telephones anyway, not even in the hotel. I don’t have a city map and can’t access a map app. I can’t even log in to Gmail with my laptop because I have to verify the unknown device with my phone. All services for which you need two-factor authentication also fail, in short: you are only half a person. No cards, no communication, no transaction. How could it have come to this?

It takes me several hours to solve the problem. While the cell phone is plugged in, I set up a completely new mail address on my small travel laptop so that I can communicate with my trusted engineer back home. Miraculously, my phone finally restarts with a special key combination. Phew, that went well again! But the shock is deep-seated and from then on this device is treated like a raw egg and watched closely.

Once again, I learned how important it is to keep a cool head and proceed logically instead of panicking. Always stay in your own center, then you can move in any direction!

Expand the horizon

When you go toward the horizon, it expands. Thus, consciousness expands and the walls of one’s own little world disappear. One remains flexible in the head. Some problems suddenly shrink like a balloon from which you let the air out when you let go of them and turn your full concentration to other things. Everything that has lost proportion is put back in its place. Aging is certainly also a form of torpor.

Opinions and judgments are like well known roads in which we move. They give us security because we know our way around. When we venture into unfamiliar territory and learn about new perspectives, this security falls away and we have to reorient ourselves.

And that is exactly what happens when we immerse ourselves in foreign worlds. What does a city smell like? How does it sound? What are the people like? What is reflected on their faces? How do they behave? What does their language sound like? And if a conversation arises: what’s on their mind? What is the light like in the place where I am? How do the buildings affect me?

You can have seen 100 films about a place, but only when you go there, as unprejudiced as possible, can you really experience it. Then you know the smells and sounds, feel the nature of the people. Many a prejudice may vanish into thin air, many a judgment (even in a negative sense) may surprisingly form.

Travel is the means of choice for international understanding, even when touring one’s own country and getting to know new regions.

It’s like a good conversation where you get to know the other person’s point of view.

Sometimes a change of location also results in a kind of time travel. Not only that one can experience the testimonies of historical circumstances at close quarters, it also happens that memories from one’s own life come to the surface, which one can then contemplate and perhaps also re-evaluate.

Through the ages

While Mowgli and I sit on a wall at the top of the Saxon mountain Bieleboh on the last day of the year and look into the valley, which is increasingly plunged into twilight, I feel with all clarity the sinking of the old time into the sea of history. We listen to the strong wind blowing up here. Mowgli holds his nose to the wind and scents intensely. It’s enough for us to sit here while the people around us prepare for the New Year’s Eve party. Tomorrow we will continue our journey to Prague and start a new chapter…

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